Bonsai Brigade Takes Charge in Hawaii’s Horticulture

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Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Bonsai Brigade Takes Charge in Hawaii’s Horticulture

Not to be confused with what you might shout before cannonballing into the hotel pool…BANZAI!!!

This Japanese art form is far from a war cry prior to a fierce attack (of the chilly pool). Bonsai is a technique of growing miniature trees in containers and has been around for centuries.Some bonsai are tiny enough to fit in your hand, like these baby beauties.

It continues to thrive in popularity worldwide, and in Hawaii, has become its own niche, with several bonsai clubs and a 22-acre Hawaii Bonsai Center in the heart of Waimanalo. Now with classes offered to Hawaii’s visitors and locals, learning the ancient techniques has become even more attainable.

Bonsai literally means “tree in a pot.” The horticultural art form developed thousands of years ago in the Japanese and Chinese cultures. It’s not considered a bonsai until the plant has been pruned, shaped and trained to grow into a specific shape. Bonsai may live to be hundreds of years old. But the actual age of the tree isn’t as important; a tree that’s really well-trained may appear older than it really is.VIDEO: A real bonsai beau. James Meyer of Hawaii Bonsai Association falls in love with the art all over again.

Bonsai can be grown indoors and outdoors and requires special attention when it comes to watering, fertilizing, repotting and trimming/pruning. The practice incorporates a number of techniques that include leaf trimming, pruning, wiring, clamping, grafting, defoliation and deadwood. Some of the “living sculptures,” as they’re called, start with seedlings or cuttings while others start with materials collected from the wild or a nursery stock.

James Meyer, educational chair for the Hawaii Bonsai Association, proudly showed me his bonsai as I came upon the Classic Bonsai Club booth at the Ohana Festival. Amazingly, it was more than 100 years old from Florida and followed the deadwood practice. Dozens representing the Classic Bonsai Club worked meticulously in the heat of the afternoon, too concentrated on their masterpiece to move into a shaded area.

The association offers classes to anyone interested in pursuing the art of bonsai, including tourists.

“Bonsai is worldwide,” he said. “So if they come here, and they’re interested in bonsai, they can get a start here…and they can use the knowledge back home.”

Hawaii’s definitely the place to be if you’re considering becoming a bonsai belle or beau, yourself. We’re home to the largest bonsai collection in the world, located between the Koolau Mountains and Mount Olomana. Under the care of the Liew family, the Hawaii Bonsai Center offers two-hour guided tours that consists of a brief introduction to bonsai, followed by a bonsai demonstration and finally the walking tour of the 22-acre farmland. (Top) James’ Buttonwood Bonsai has been around for more than 100 years. (Bottom) The living sculpture doesn’t have to be a big one.

Taking a bonsai home with you on the plane may be difficult. Check with airlines on their plant and flower policies. One lady told me that you’d have to first get rid of the soil and put the plant in an air-tight container. But that all depends on the size of the plant, too. Over-sized ones might have to go through cargo or get shipped separately.

I asked James why people bonsai? He said bonsai gardening not only promotes a healthier way of living, but it lessens stress and promotes patience in one’s life. Hmmm…sounds like bonsai could be the answer to sticking to those new year’s resolutions!

Sources: Hawaii Bonsai Center, Bonsai Clubs International, Wikipedia

HAWAII BONSAI ASSOCIATION • Apply for classes online at • $125 per person multi-class package, minimum age 15

HAWAII BONSAI CENTER • 41-909 Mahailua St., Waimanalo, HI 96795 • 808-373-9266 • Guided tours: $15 general admission; $10 Kamaaina; $5 students/senior citizens


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